Former Sgt. Maj. Thomas Ellis, a Tuskegee Airman, died Jan. 2 of a stroke in a San Antonio hospital. He was 97.
Ellis will be buried with full military honors on Friday at the Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery. He was one of six surviving Tuskegee Airmen living in San Antonio, according to the San Antonio Express-News.
Drafted in 1942, Ellis was proud of his unit — the first all-black Army Air Forces unit — and was dedicated to proving the worth of his squadron during a racially tense time in the country’s history.
"They had the cream of the crop in our outfit because we had to do everything better than the other outfits on account of our race," Ellis said during a 2010 event honoring Tuskegee Airmen at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph Air Force Base. "They said we couldn't fly, we couldn't do this, we couldn't do that. We proved them wrong."
Ellis added that the Tuskegee Airmen excelled in their primary mission of escorting bombers — losing not one bomber to enemy fighter planes.
“No one will ever beat our record,” he said. “You won’t escort that many bombers without losing one of them.”
“He was very opinionated, very outspoken,” Rick Sinkfield, national spokesman for Tuskegee Airmen Inc., which has 1,400 members across the country, around 20 of them pilots from the legendary unit, told the Express News. “He realized he was in the segregated military at the time and so he was very aware all eyes were on those guys to do well.”
After serving, Ellis worked for U.S. Postal Service and performed in a string quartet. He was known to all as approachable and friendly. According to his daughter, Janice Stallings, so friendly “that he would slow you down if you tried to take him someplace.”